Through the airlock doors beyond the landing bay, Matthius watched as his armies returned to him. A few shuttles and Thunderhawks remained in flight, still taking long and circuitous routes back to the The Pledge of Darkness, masking itself by hovering above the magnetic pole of a forgotten ice world. They had stayed to the last moments of the Station, the final vessels taking off just as it was obliterated. Matthius had commanded his forces of devout Astartes and mortal madmen to do all they could to retake and save the massive destructive fortress, and when that was impossible, he had ordered that every possible resource was extracted from its surface before the end.
Now, his armies returned, bringing with them those remains of the Station’s technology that they could carry. Even more precious were those men who had been abandoned by their own forces. Loyalist or Traitor, it did not matter. All would be converted to Matthius’ cause before long. His commanders moved past him as they arrived, bowing and praising yet another action that had, surely, served the purpose of the Four.
Matthius did not hear his underlings as they whispered in his ear. He scarcely knew they were there. Instead, his mind focused on the communique he had received earlier, just as he received reports of the Black Morass translating into the Warp as it fled Imperial vengeance. It had been short and cruel; a reminder of Gorath’s unquenchable rage:
“Your foolishness has cost me everything, Prophet. Cross my path again, and I will spend every mote of my armies to see you wiped from these mortal shores in a manner so complete that even your gods will be unable to save you.”
Matthius had stared at the message for a long time. It was worse than an insult. It was true. A moment of weakness had undone countless years of his divine work, and much, much more.
Why had he given in to that impulse? What was it that had moved him to act out of concert with the very plan he had set into motion? Gehn had demanded the action, and Matthius had indulged his youthful impertinence. Gehn had seemingly been promised to him by the voices of the gods as a worthy tool, and he heard their assent to his attack on the Citadel, but what were those voices? Matthius did not speak to the gods, not in truth. A man could no more converse with a god than he could a mountain or a great storm. All that a man could do was listen to the wind and the rain. For millennia, Matthius had listened, secure in knowing that he was carrying out the orders of beings whose existence eclipsed his own.
But a man could hear his own thoughts in the wind and imagine the rain’s caress to be more than the falling of water. Had he, in fact, heard the will of the Unknowables in Gehn’s fury? Or had he heard that which he wished to hear?
The realization was cold comfort now. The voices of the gods had gone silent after his failure. His failure. Not one of his countless pawns down through the centuries. Not another of the many whose lives and dreams he’d offered up in sacrifice to the Pantheon, achieving greater ends than any mortal could hope for. His own. Matthius had forgotten his role, and now he had been abandoned by the gods themselves.
It was a secret he hid well. None could know. Then again, how would they? Matthius’ mortal gifts remained. The power of his words could still stop a raging son of Angron in his tracks, and the Immaterium whose depths he had quietly plumbed for centuries still remained at his command. He would find his salvation, and the voices of the True Gods would once more echo throughout his mind.
The great doors of the landing bay began to close as the final Thunderhawk drifted into The Pledge of Darkness’ bay. Without checking the logs, Matthius knew who would be aboard.
He watched as a squad of his Traitor Astartes stepped into the airlock and awaited pressurization. All wore the scars of battle, but one was hardly conscious, borne on the shoulders of his brothers, the cracks and holes in his armor spoke of much greater injuries. Matthius wondered what cruel fate had befallen Gehn, but for the moment, he simply felt annoyance that the wayward Azure Flame had survived.
The airlock door opened, and the Marines stepped through. Their leader removed his helm, revealing a stony face bearing scars of both the Pantheon, and of the wars he had fought in their name. If the man still had a name, Matthius could not recall it.
“We found him like this, my Prophet. He went into a rage and attempted to ambush on the Azure Flames’ extraction point on his own. It seems a fragment of falling planetary debris found him first.”
Matthius nodded. “Bring him to me.”
The Astartes stepped forward as one, Gehn’s limp feet scraping on the ground. Matthius reached the fallen Flame’s damaged helmet and disengaged its seals. With a hiss of pressure, it came free, and the extent of Gehn’s injuries became clear. His head was a mess of blood, trying and failing to clot great wounds in a skull that only barely held together. Somehow, Gehn remained conscious, softly babbling oaths of vengeance against his former brothers. One in particular.
“His wounds are extensive,” said the nameless Marine. “Many may never heal. If he survives, he will need extensive augmentic restructuring, and his mind will require intense hypno-therapy before he is even coherent again. Even an Astartes of Lord Gehn’s status cannot be worth that much after his failure to please the Four. At your command, honored Prophet, I will take him to the Reaper, and see him sent properly to the Pantheon.”
“No,” Matthius said. “Bring Gehn to the cryostasis chambers and have him interred there until I am able to more fully see to his recovery. He is still of use to me.”
The Marines recited their customary oath of loyalty and dragged their mumbling Lord to his cold fate. Matthius watched them go, then returned to his thoughts. Plans were forming. There were secrets to uncover and pacts to be made. He would be made whole once more.